**spoiler alert** Two things about this book struck me. First, I appreciate that the author clearly holds his readers in high regard -- I don't know a...more**spoiler alert** Two things about this book struck me. First, I appreciate that the author clearly holds his readers in high regard -- I don't know a whole lot of fourteen-year-olds who know what the Pentateuch is, or who Suetonius was, but I don't think there's anything wrong with a book that encourages kids to ask questions and look things up. Second, I thought it approached slavery from two distinct angles, which was refreshing. The first half of the book (or maybe it's more accurate to say the pre-Mr. Sharpe portion?) never really mentions the physical horrors of slavery. Octavian doesn't work, isn't beaten -- it is dedicated instead to the philosophical horror of slavery, the lunacy of one person owning another. Parts of this reminded me a lot of a book I loved when I was younger, Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons, but where that book was constrained by its biographical nature, this novel could go further. So the second half, Octavian's awakening to his situation and the hypocrisy of the movement for liberty, is the other side of the coin, complementing the first half's hypothetical and philosophical treatment of slavery with very real and concrete (and thus, unsettling) depictions of it.
Overall, I thought this was great. I'm reserving final judgment until I've read the second book, but I've got high hopes.(less)
Charming, charming, charming. This book, which in many ways could have taken place alongside Little Women, suited me perfectly! A summer vacation in a...moreCharming, charming, charming. This book, which in many ways could have taken place alongside Little Women, suited me perfectly! A summer vacation in a New England cottage, a hound named Hound, a tight-knit group of sisters who look out for each other, a kind and warm housekeeper! And it's nostalgic, to be sure, but not old-fashioned. In fact, it almost seems to take place in no time, in no place. There are computers and telephones, but they only exist quietly in the background; New York and Boston and Pennsylvania are mentioned, but I kept thinking I was reading about England. This really reads as a labor of love, the author's homage to the books she read and loved as a child. The Penderwicks are also C.S. Lewis' Pevensies, Madeleine L'Engles Austins, Alcott's Marches, and Arundel is Misselthwaite Manor, Green Gables.(less)
There were a lot of things I loved about this book - the prose is undeniably beautiful, as is much of the poetry. The characters are, if not always li...moreThere were a lot of things I loved about this book - the prose is undeniably beautiful, as is much of the poetry. The characters are, if not always likable, at least always interesting. But there are two things that really made this book for me. The first might not hold true for everyone; it worked to satisfy the part of me that loves research, and would like nothing more than to spend years reading and unearthing letters that had been secreted away from the public for centuries. The other, however, is just a mark of how talented Byatt is. She created, almost from scratch, four very real Victorian characters to stand alongside the contemporary characters. Pages and pages of letters and poems and journal entries, all utterly convincing and fully developed within the scope of the characters to whom they are attributed. The craft involved in this layering of characters and eras, never giving complete precedence to one time or the other, is what makes this book more than just another beautiful novel.(less)